Chris Bell: Leadership is Messy

Proverbs 14:4

“Without oxen a stable stays clean, but you need a strong ox for a large harvest.”

Leadership is messy. Can’t we all agree on this? If you’ve been leading very long at all, you know this is true. Most of us entered into ministry leadership because we love Jesus and love people, but it doesn’t take long to realize that the people part is extremely unpredictable and complex. Whether it’s a staff, organization, or a church, leading humans from where they are currently to where they need to go is often hard, dirty work. While this is reality, it’s only part of the story. You see, when the stable is dirty, it is a sign of vision, progress, and life.

When Solomon penned the words of Proverbs 14:4 a few thousand years ago, he was talking to an agriculturally-based group of people. Simply put, if they didn’t work, they didn’t eat. The crops weren’t going to magically pop up from the ground, and the harvest wouldn’t simply fall into their laps and into their bellies. It required work. A lot of sweaty, hard, intentional work. And, it required time. The results from the work wasn’t immediately visible or useable. The harvest of meals and provision began with the labor of plowing and planting.

This is all true of leadership. The glories of harvest are never realized apart from the investment of planting. The thing that God has called you to lead will not automatically become all it is meant to be, unless you put your hands to the plow, bust up the dirt of habits and history, and plant seeds of culture and vision. Not everyone will like your dirty stable. People will press you to keep it clean….stop rocking the boat. Many will point out how much easier and nicer it would be to keep the “stable” of your organization neat and tidy; but true leaders know better.

Leaders keep the stables dirty. They refuse to trade the potential of the vision for the comfort of a few fearful, doubtful, or lazy people. In Theodore Roosevelt’s famous “Man in the Arena” speech, he reminded us that it’s not the people safe in the stands that get it done, but the “man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust, sweat, and blood.”  In other words, if you want to accomplish great things, you’re going to have to get some dirt on yourself. Let me encourage and challenge you today, fellow leader. Make some hard decisions. Have some difficult conversations. Implement some brave initiatives. Get some dirt in the stable you are leading. That’s where the harvest is found.


Chris Bell is a coach for He's also Lead Pastor of 3Circle Church, a fast growing, multi-site church in Fairhope, Alabama. He married up and his kids take their good looks after their mom.